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What Was it Really Like to Live Through the California Floods? Our Team Spills
Episode 5622nd March 2023 • Core Conversations • CoreLogic
00:00:00 00:15:05

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The Golden State has endured months of inundations from atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones. As a result, the news is awash with images of submerged streets and mudslides, replacing our collective imagination of California as a state perennially filled with sunny beaches and golden hills. But not everyone in the state has had the same experience with this weird weather.

In Part 1 of this episode, host Maiclaire Bolton-Smith sits down with Kent David, a senior leader in analytics consulting, and Tom Larsen, an expert in catastrophe risk management and insurance solutions, to discuss what it has really been like to live through the continuous rain that has made headlines in California since these atmospheric rivers began at the start of the year.

Find full episodes with all our guests in our podcast archive here:

In this episode:

  • 1:31 – Come see us in New Orleans, LA!
  • 3:27 – Maiclaire, Kent and Tom discuss whether they’ve experienced this amount of rain before
  • 6:13 – How did these three Californians weather the storms?
  • 11:01 – Katia hosts The Sip, summarizing the important numbers in the property market
  • 12:54 – What was the flooding like north of the Bay Area?
  • 13:36 – What is going to happen when the snowpack melts?


Tom Larsen:

When I was younger, they used to call these types of events, Pineapple Express events. Now they call it an atmospheric river. I think it's a little bit more evocative of the right type of thing, but in my recollection, they've always happened in bunches. Then maybe they should have called them bananas.

Maiclaire Bolton Smith:

Welcome back to Core Conversations: A CoreLogic Podcast where we tour the property market to investigate how economics, climate change, governmental policies and technology affect everyday life. I am your host, Maiclaire Bolton Smith, and I'm just as curious as you are about everything that happens in our industry.

"Atmospheric river." is probably a term that most people were unfamiliar with until it began raining in California this past January. And February. And March. The heavy rainfall that washed through the state caused swollen rivers, flash floods, mudslides and general surprise at the amount of rain that just kept falling. I know because I was there. And so were my colleagues: Kent David, who is a senior leader in analytics consulting, and our expert in catastrophe risk management and insurance solutions, Tom Larsen. And while we all live in the Bay Area, we all experience this differently because we're in different parts of the Bay Area. So, today we're going to talk about what it was like to live under an atmospheric river and have your home pummeled by bomb cyclones — one after the other.

So, Tom and Kent, welcome back to Core Conversations!


Thank you, Maiclaire.

Kent David:

Thanks, Maiclaire.

Katia Oloy:

Hi, Katia here. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this episode, I've got a special announcement for all you industry folks that are listening. Flood risk is a big deal when considering where to buy a house, but mortgages are too, and both homeowners and lenders have a lot to think about when adding a mortgage to the mix. For lenders and servicers, managing a portfolio of mortgages means not only verifying a borrower's eligibility prior to origination, but it also means being on the lookout for fraud.

at the:


All right, this is going to be fun because the three of us have known each other a very long time, so I'm excited to get a chance to chat with the two of you together. So you have both been on this podcast before, but it's been a little while. So why don't you take a moment to just reintroduce yourselves and tell our listeners about your background and your role here at CoreLogic. So Kent, why don't we start with you?


Thanks, Maiclaire. So thank you for having me back on. I look forward to the conversation. I lead our analytics consulting team. Our goal is to provide views of risk outside of a normal data or modeling license arrangement.


All right, and Tom.


Yeah, hi, Maiclaire. I work in CoreLogic's product management group for risk management and natural hazards. I've spent my career, and my time at CoreLogic, focusing on helping our clients use the latest technology to manage the effects of these catastrophes like floods.


Great segue there, Tom. So while it's one thing to read about the rainfall records and see pictures of cars wading through several feet of water, it's quite another to actually live through the experience. So the three of us all live in Northern California. We all live in the Bay Area, and we've all been here for quite a while, the two of you much longer than myself. But have you ever heard of or experienced rain quite like this before? Tom, why don't you start us off?


When I was younger, they used to call these types of events Pineapple Express events. Now they call it an atmospheric river. I think it's a little bit more evocative of the right type of thing, but in my recollection, they've always happened in bunches. Then maybe they should have called them bananas.


While Tom may be joking about using bananas in weather terminology, there are tons of weird ways to describe weather patterns. Some of my favorites you'll hear in this episode are "atmospheric river." That's what we're talking about today on this episode. According to the National Weather Service, these low-pressure systems transport water vapor from the tropics and can impact the entire west coast of North America, bringing torrential rains and strong winds that often cause floods.

Bomb cyclone. These atmospheric outbursts occurred during the January storms in California. When low-pressure systems drop rapidly, it can cause an explosion of snow, rain and wind to appear.

Derecho. This term is full of bluster. The National Weather Service defines it as "a widespread long-lived windstorm." Basically, it means hold on tight to your umbrella.


You get used to these longer duration, the sequence of events of flooding, but I've never sustained this long — in a short period of time — where it was just event after an event after an event.


Yeah. Wow. And Kent, you've lived in San Francisco Bay Area your whole life. What about you? Have you experienced this before?


Yeah, pretty much. So, I remember back when I was a kid, there being periods when we had some extreme rainfall events and driving through huge puddles on El Camino Real and things of that nature. As Tom indicated, it's kind of been an on-again, off-again, some years are bad, some years are not so bad. This was a particularly long, some close to historical, near historic event in itself. But we've experienced this as, also as Tom said, with weather patterns it's set up to provide just these nonstop train of rainfall events. So, each storm is different, but generally speaking, we've seen stuff like this, maybe not to this extent.


Okay. Well, I want to talk about what we saw. So just to set the stage a little bit. So Kent lives in San Francisco up in The City. Tom lives in the East Bay, and I live in the South Bay. So we're kind of a triangle of the Bay Area in very different parts of the Bay Area. But all, I think each of you is maybe 50 miles from me, and you're probably 15 to 20 miles from each other? So we aren't incredibly far from each other, but it's really interesting how a lot of this is super localized. So what we saw being very different.

So I want to talk a little bit about what each of you saw during this sequence of storms and just talk about how it is pretty localized. For myself, I have to admit, and maybe partially too, because I spent a lot of my life living on the west coast of Canada and Vancouver Island. I'm kind of used to rain. I kind of like rain. So for me, we haven't had that kind of rain in California since I've lived here for the past 12, 13 years. But it was very comforting almost to me because it was, I love the rain. It made me feel like I was at home.

I also didn't realize that it was abnormal. I mean, I did realize it was raining a lot and we were, my husband and I were talking too. We've had this vase sitting, quite a long, from big flowers sitting outside, and it filled up within a very short period of time and we're like, "Oh, that's rainwater? That's actually a lot of water that we've had." But I didn't necessarily think it was everything the media was making it out to be. We were hearing all of these headlines in the news about this being this massive storm and it continuing forever and it being so much rain. And I'm like, "Huh, it's just kind of raining." So from my perspective, it wasn't that severe, but where you two were, it was a little different. So Kent, why don't you start?


So out here in the western part of San Francisco, well, San Francisco is notably hilly, and it's also known for its microclimates. And both of those play a big role in the impacts of flooding. But that issue, those topics correspond or apply just as much to the larger Bay Area. Out here where I live, we saw a lot of rain, didn't see any localized flooding, not near my house, but there certainly were areas where there was flooding. There were areas certainly on the freeways, underpasses, places where we've seen some flooding in the past, were just horribly flooded. So some big accidents on the roadways due to that. But speaking just for myself, I mean, we were largely high and dry. It rained a lot, but no ponding at or near my house.


Okay. Tom, what about you over in the East Bay?


Well, the hillier areas where I live, it went through the sort of normal sequence and then it changed. The normal sequence when we get a first storm is: people who hadn't cleaned some of the gutters and the ditches that are needed to drain the water, those, some of the maintenance wasn't done, so we have localized flooding. We saw a lot of that right away, but after a few days, that is cleared up. We're really good as a society of identifying these normal human oversights, and we fix it. So then you start getting to normal. But what happened after a few more days, was it started straining. This much water inundation starting to strain, so the roads were starting to crack a little bit more. The rivers had been a little bit higher, and now they're starting to overtop because the minute you have a rainfall, the rain, it all runs off.

So we are starting to see a little bit more sustained and deeper floods in some areas that were becoming quite inconvenient if you wanted to go somewhere. And that's the thing, you're trying to look at that through different eyes of being able to react and respond. We have our normal day-to-day, we can react and clean the gutters and get the normal runways, get the drains working again, the sewers that can drain off. It's this sustained event. Do we have to rethink and certainly as planners we'll be considering, do we have to rethink how we do a lot of our water maintenance, the runways and the flood maintenance if this is to be the new normal. We don't know, but we always have to consider that.


Yeah, that's a really important part, that there's a lot of things that we can do to potentially stop flooding from happening. But the prolonged impact that we saw from this is that changing what the new normal looks like.


It's that time again. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage. We're going to do the numbers in the housing market. Here's what you need to know.

% year-over-year in December:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate hovered near the lowest figures in a decade this past December. The job market's impact on the rental price growth has been particularly evident in cities like Miami, which led the country in annual increases throughout most of 2022. Miami's unemployment rate was 1.6% in December, the lowest of the 20 metros for which CoreLogic publishes rental cost data. However, Miami saw the second-highest gains in rental prices at 9.9% growth. Orlando, Florida, posted the highest year-over-year increase in single-family rents, recording a 10.8% jump. Boston came in third with 9% growth. Phoenix, one of the top 10 markets for home price growth in the same period, saw the lowest annual rent price gain at 1.2%. And that's the sip. See you next time.


I know there were other parts of California, if we went a little further north even, that experienced worse than the Bay Area too, like the Sacramento area. Marin County, I know, experienced some pretty catastrophic flooding. Tom or Kent, can you talk about what you maybe heard or saw up a little bit further north of us?


We look at the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley. The sustained rainfall that we had, and all it channels in, we did see some levy failures — partial. And there was a lot of concern in the San Joaquin, in the Stockton Delta, there's always a lot of concern about the deltas, that we've got many places that the land is below the river levels, the peak river levels. The flooding, though, wasn't as bad this year as it has been in the past. Perhaps that's because we're coming out of a sustained drought. So there was a lot more that was soaked in, but it certainly was of concern. I think certainly we are, we're off the hook. There's a lot of precipitation that's trapped in the mountains in snow right now. So that was a savior.


Yeah, that's interesting. I'm glad you brought that up, Tom, because that's kind of a looming thing that we haven't really talked about too, is the level of snowpack and when that melts, is that going to cause extra flooding too? I mean, I think that's something that should be on the radar. Are we concerned with that?


I know we are all concerned whether the snowpack will cause more flooding this spring, and I guarantee our discussion will give some insight into this burning question. However, we're going to continue this conversation in Part 2 of this episode when we pick back up next week. See you there.


And thank you for listening. I hope you've enjoyed our latest episode. Please remember to leave us a review and let us know your thoughts and subscribe wherever you get your podcast to be notified when new episodes are released. And thanks to the team for helping bring this podcast to life. Producer, Jessi Devenyns, editor and sound engineer Romie Aromin, our facts guru, Katia Oloy, and social media duo, Sarah Buck and Makaila Brooks. Tune in next time for another Core Conversation.



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